Serie A: Furious AC Milan meets in-form Juventus as title race hots up

Milan’s hopes of taking the league crown off rival Inter was dealt a big blow when it fell to a surprising and controversial 2-1 defeat to lowly Spezia on Monday.

Fifth-placed Juventus is on an eight-match unbeaten run in Serie A and sits one point behind Atalanta in the final Champions League qualification spot.   -  AP

Two of Italy’s most decorated clubs, AC Milan and Juventus, face off on Sunday in a game that could prove crucial for their respective ambitions of winning Serie A and qualifying for the Champions League.

Milan’s hopes of taking the league crown off rival Inter was dealt a big blow when it fell to a surprising and controversial 2-1 defeat to lowly Spezia on Monday.

Referee Marco Serra failed to play advantage when Junior Messias curled home a stoppage-time goal, instead blowing for a foul to Milan two seconds before the ball hit the net, and the visitors then clinched victory in the 96th minute.

Serra and the Italian Referees’ Association later apologised for the mistake, but it left Stefano Pioli’s incensed side second and two points behind leaders Inter, who have a game in hand.

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The Rossoneri’s title challenge now faces a critical fortnight, with in-form Juventus visiting San Siro in Milan's final game before a top-of-the-table Milan Derby clash with Inter.

Defeat could prove extremely damaging for Milan; it could leave it third behind Napoli, which is currently two points behind and hosts bottom side Salernitana on Sunday, and five adrift of Inter, which hosts struggling Venezia on Saturday.

Fifth-placed Juventus is on an eight-match unbeaten run in Serie A and sits one point behind Atalanta in the final Champions League qualification spot, a placing that coach Massimiliano Allegri has set as Juve's objective for the season.

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“It’s not good for Milan, they face the worst possible opponents. Juve aren’t great to watch but they have become a team to fear recently, concrete and solid,” former Milan player Massimo Orlando told TMW.

DYBALA DOUBTS

Although Allegri’s side is in great form, it has also faced its fair share of controversy recently.

Talks over star striker Paulo Dybala’s contract, which expires at the end of the season, have dragged on and the Argentina international pointedly glared at the Juve directors instead of celebrating after scoring in a 2-0 win over Udinese on Saturday.

The 28-year-old has been linked with a move to Juve’s fierce rival Inter on a free transfer, something Nerazzurri director Giuseppe Marotta wouldn’t rule out.

“We must be ambitious and go looking for players who can raise the bar,” he said when asked about interest in Dybala.

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The striker scored again in a midweek 4-1 Coppa Italia victory over Sampdoria and this time did celebrate, his third goal in the last four games in all competitions.

There is another big game in Rome on Saturday night when Maurizio Sarri’s eighth-placed Lazio takes on Atalanta, looking to keep its slim top-four hopes alive.

Seven points separates the two clubs, although Atalanta has a game in hand, and the Bergamo club is trying to keep pace with the top three as it currently sits four points behind Napoli in third.

At the other end of the table, Genoa coach Alexander Blessin makes his debut against Udinese and Marco Giampaolo marks his return as Sampdoria coach with a relegation six-pointer at Spezia.

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